Monday, July 25

Bombs Away!

Summer is a splendid time to step back and reflect on what you've built over time professionally or personally.  If something no longer works, take your cue from the recent joint military exercise "retiring" the U.S.S. Thach and find the best way to say goodbye!  Here is your inspiration:

Wednesday, June 8

Muhammad Ali and My Mom

As sports celebrities, journalists, and commentators gather this week to share their memories of Muhammad Ali upon the occasion of his passing, I thought I would share one of my own personal experiences.  Back in 2001, I had the opportunity to bring my family to the White House when President Clinton presented the Presidential Citizens Medal to, among others, Muhammad Ali.  A last-minute event arranged soon before Clinton left office, it was scheduled on a weekend just before my mom had a long-standing doctor’s appointment to assess her slipping memory. My family and I had a wonderful experience with the honorees, chatting and having our photos taken with the gentle, radiant Ali. 

The morning after the event, I put my mom on a plane at 6:00am and by 8:00am my sister had picked her up from the airport and gotten her to an appointment at Ford Hospital, an island in a sea of decayed, abandoned buildings in downtown Detroit.  The doctor brought my mom out after his exam to report to my sister with great alarm that he had asked her the standard question, “Do you know who is President of the United States?”  to which my mom quickly and cheerfully responded, “Yes, Bill Clinton.  I had dinner with him last night.”  The doctor, stunned at my mom’s cognitive decline, asked her where this took place and if anyone else was present.  “Oh, at the White House, and yes, Elizabeth Taylor was there with her dog.”  My mom went on to tell him about all the other stars in attendance as the doctor sadly shook his head and looked out at the wasteland outside his window, wondering at her vibrant imagination in such a dismal setting.

When the doctor brought my mother out to my sister in the waiting room, he declared, “Your mother not only has dementia; she has illusions of grandeur.
  She believes she had dinner at the White House last night with Muhammad Ali and Elizabeth Taylor.”  When my sister assured him that this was true, he retorted that obviously our mother’s fantasies were a shared psychosis.

Monday, May 23

All You Need Is Love

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend my friend Hal’s graduation from the Alexandria Police Academy.  Police Chief Cook gave an inspiring talk at the gathering about how our police strive to represent us with professionalism and care.  His theme was that we don’t have to engage with one another out of distrust—the root of much of the national conversation.  His brief talk was peppered with the word, “Love.”

As a college student, I was given the assignment on the first day of an education course to return the next week with my philosophy of education.  I spent the weekend painting a large banner with Peter Max-like figures dancing around The Beatles’ lyrics, “All You Need Is Love.”  It hung in the Michigan School of Education for many years, giving me and others ample opportunity to reflect on our beliefs about effective education. When I was interviewed about it years later,  I said that my years teaching at-risk kids had led me to conclude that love might not be the only thing needed, but it’s a great place to start.

Chief Cook’s comments last week served as a reminder that love is a great place to begin any relationship.  I am convinced that those who see the glass half empty and bring suspicions or doubts to every interaction are no happier than I am.  And I see the applicability of the approach not only to teaching and policing, but to every walk of life. 

Chief Cook noted that the Alexandria police may not be perfect, but they are always striving to do better.  He asserted that he and the Department welcome difficult feedback and open dialogue in their effort to serve our citizens better.  Those who know and have worked with me know how I share his dedication to continuous improvement. 

Last week’s ceremony reminded me how grateful I am to be a member of a vibrant community where diversity works and is not just a slogan.  I was inspired by the diversity of the Academy graduates, their friends and families, and how comfortably we interacted with one another that night.  All organizations are diverse communities, just as our City is, and would benefit from authentically honoring diversity and tackling obstacles to unity.

Thanks to Hal for inviting his friends to his graduation.  Thanks to Chief Cook for his positive message.  And thanks to a community that respectfully engages all of its members in decisions that affect them.

Wednesday, March 9

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

The long-anticipated arrival of spring weather has me challenging old assumptions and behaviors. As I open up windows to let the fresh air breeze through my home, I find myself compelled to move things around and clean places and objects I haven’t paid attention to in awhile.  I took great pleasure in taking my washing machine apart and cleaning the insides with a toothbrush! 

I sometimes hear organizational leaders say they don’t want “change for change’s sake,” or that they prefer to “let sleeping dogs lie.” Their comments cause me to reflect on my own behavior—does spring awaken in me an urge to make unneeded change and wake up peacefully sleeping dogs?  Yet, as far back as human behavior has been recorded, there are records of cleaning rituals in spring.  I feel energized by the promise of warmer weather to shake out the cobwebs and try new things, as well as rearrange old ones.  There is something cleansing about the ritual of getting rid of clutter and tackling projects that I have gotten comfortable neglecting during the busy winter months.

Whether it’s in your own life or in your organization, why not use the promises of spring to play with variations on the patterns in your life?  While you are at it, sweep out those dark corners where dirt and stale energy have been collecting. Take advantage of the spirit of the season, awaken and energize your sleeping dogs, and get ready for all the new challenges and opportunities awaiting you the rest of the year.  A fresh perspective will revitalize your focus and enable you to proceed toward your goals with greater harmony.   

Tuesday, December 22


Many years ago, I sat next to a priest on a short flight, but I will remember something he said for the rest of my life. He told me that in order to be happy, a person needs 3 things: something meaningful to do, something to look forward to, and someone to love. I have often reflected on his recipe for a balanced, productive life. This weekend, I realized he missed what I consider a 4th ingredient essential to happiness: community. I have written many times about what I believe is an innate need to belong, whether it’s to a family, college, work team--or even our planet. I believe this need to feel a part of a larger group is so fundamental that it ranks up there with his 3. And here is why I concluded this on this particular weekend:

Exactly a year ago this week, I moved to Galesville, Maryland, on the banks of the West River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Although I still have my townhouse attached to my office in Old Town Alexandria, I have been putting down roots in Galesville over the course of the last year. In the course of the last year, I met many Galesville residents I instantly liked and was certain I wanted to get to know better. Some were retired from exciting lives that took them to the far corners of the world. Others were born and raised in Galesville—and had often returned here after living and working in other places. Two very special friends are in their 90s—Jack, who has a “Galesville room” in his home devoted to the history of the area, and Eleanor, who, at 98, out-parties me!

I have also written a lot about my belief that it takes focus on something (Gladwell and others would say “10,000 hours”) over time to create a critical mass that becomes the ‘tipping point’ from one state of being to another. This weekend was the tipping point for me in terms of feeling completely harmonious with the Galesville community. I woke up this morning realizing that I embrace it as my home—even the parts that are less than perfect. A series of holiday interactions over the course of the last few weeks created that critical mass that shifted my center of gravity:

 • My cottage was on the holiday home tour, which gave me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, including the organizers and other home owners.
 • The community held two charming holiday events at the Community Center.
 • Colorful, festive holiday banners line Main Street.
 • Neighbors organized for numerous parties, including an oyster roast last night that tied in with the judging of holiday decorations. Note that I went along to monitor the judging, and still received an award (see photo of award. Sorry-no photo of my Santa waving from an antique tractor.)
 • A new, exotically attired friend asked if I might have an ugly Christmas sweater, as she needed one for an office party themed around such attire. I was only too glad to share my very authentic ugly Christmas sweater and noted to myself that her request made me feel woven into the fabric of the community.

In fact, I discover as I write that there are too many events in the last few weeks to even try to continue listing them. I know I made a wonderful decision a year ago to move to Galesville, a diverse community filled with people who love sailing and the Bay as well as the town we share as our home. Thanks to all the people of Galesville who have welcomed me and helped me experience my happiest Christmas ever, as I feel a deep connection to the place I am and the people with whom I share it. Happy holidays and happy new year—and may each of you create and celebrate your own community!

Thursday, December 3

Giving Thanks for Courageous Leaders

I’ve learned that many client groups have a busy season.  Bakeries and ballet companies are entering their crazy-busy seasons now, while I am just wrapping up mine.  Many of my nonprofit clients have a “back-to-school” ethic, returning from summer vacation full of determination to live and lead better, thus driving my “busy season” from October through the first weeks of December.  (Of course, a whole other batch will get itchy in January and plan retreats for February and March.)  As I momentarily paused last weekend to break for Thanksgiving after returning from several back-to-back client meetings and events, I had time to reflect on all the clients in my life for which I am grateful.

I can describe them in one word: WOW! 

I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to work with such amazingly caring and talented people—from neuroscience nurses to bakery owners to national service leaders.  As I processed my experiences while traveling between groups, I concluded that perhaps the most valuable quality that nurtures such remarkable success for each group is the leadership in each organization/ association.  In particular, each of these groups have a leader who seeks hard feedback.  Not only do these leaders not flinch when they receive it—they actually WANT it!  And they listen without defensiveness, seeking to first understand, and then to explore positive alternatives.  I continue to learn so much about courage from these leaders, who have become partners and friends in our shared journeys. 

As you ramp up during the upcoming holidays, make sure you give yourself time to reflect, ask for feedback on how you’re doing, and express your appreciation to those who provide it.  Growth is nearly impossible without feedback on performance. As much as we all want to hear the good stuff, sometimes all it takes for a colleague to let go of a negative feeling or opinion is the chance to verbalize it and feel heard.  Thanks to the wonderful, courageous leaders who have modeled this behavior with their colleagues and with me.  You inspire me and I am grateful!

Tuesday, September 22

Turning Point

Last year, when I purchased my sailboat, Turning Point, I was stunned that her name was so appropriate for that moment in my life.  Learning to be the skipper of my own boat has brought many great people and experiences and adventures into my life.  Undertaking such a multi-dimensional challenge has made me grow in so many ways, many of them unexpected.  It has shown me how I can rely on my natural strengths while building knowledge and skills in new areas.  It has forced me to ask for help and depend on others.  It has been very humbling and, surprisingly, life-affirming.
This weekend, I faced strong gusts of wind just beyond my comfort level—which is where learning takes place.  Elvis, my dog, was not as enthusiastic, as you can see from his photo.  Every person, team, and organization needs to continually find and achieve bold new goals that build on their strengths and push them in new ways. 

Take the first step, no matter how frightening it might seem.  You will overcome barriers, expand your perspective, and build resilience.  When was the last time you did that?  What is that daring goal you’d love to achieve?  How could you move toward accomplishing it?  The reward will justify the risk and you might just find, like I did, a turning point.